Friday, August 03, 2018

The Armour Becomes the Prince

Seventeen years after he played the definitive merry rebel, Errol Flynn found himself in the opposite role in 1955's The Dark Avenger. A high adventure take on Edward the Black Prince, son of England's Edward III, the film finds Flynn in charge of England's occupation of Aquitaine. Lacking the energy and fun of Flynn's great swashbucklers, it does have wonderful visuals thanks to amazing costumes and great locations.

Obviously one of the film's first tasks is to make it seem like a really good thing that Prince Edward (Flynn) is occupying Aquitaine. It gets to work showing how he's a benevolent leader who steps outside his castle to meet personally on foot with peasants who approach him with grievances. Taxes were a big issue in Robin Hood and this Edward is adamant the peasants will not be taxed unfairly.

Unfortunately the villainous Comte de Ville, played by a simmering Peter Finch, has other ideas. For reasons that aren't made quite clear, the English King (Michael Hordern) hadn't punished or deposed De Ville when he refused to swear fealty after being conquered. So De Ville goes right ahead imposing taxes to raise an army against the Prince, the army routes the Prince's forces, and the Prince and his right hand man are forced into hiding. They stay at a tavern where they run into an uncreditted Christopher Lee.

And Lee and Flynn have a sword fight. But despite the fact that Flynn accidentally nearly severed Lee's finger it's a fight lacking greatly in ferocity. The two slowly and deliberately swing their blades at each other as though they'd rehearsed the fight only once or twice. Producer Walter Mirisch is quoted by Wikipedia as saying of Flynn, "Before we started to shoot, I asked him to diet and hopefully lose some weight, which he didn't do. There were only traces left of the face, physique and charm that he had brought to The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk and all those other great adventure films of his youth." But, the swordfight notwithstanding, I didn't have a problem with Flynn's performance or the fact that he seemed older and slightly fatter. He just seems like he's lived a lot more and the world has made him a little sad and circumspect. He seems wiser than the fiery young upstart he was.

The historical Prince Edward was called the Black Prince though likely not for the reason the film invents. Most of the plot involves Edward posing as a Black Knight who poses as an ally of De Ville, insisting on anonymity until the English are defeated. Joanne Dru, the tough dame who took an arrow to the shoulder in Red River, is surprisingly flat as Flynn's love interest and the two never have chemistry. But the film's parade of costumes is certainly a marvel.

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